In celebration of what would have been Elliott Smith’s 50th birthday today, UMe has released digital deluxe editions of his major label masterpieces XO and Figure 8, expanding the albums to include all the b-sides and assorted tracks that were released on the various singles, promos and international editions of the albums. Available now for streaming and download, the digital deluxe versions include several fan-favorite songs that have never been available digitally until now and represent everything Smith released during his time on DreamWorks Records.
XO has been expanded to include nine tracks recorded and released during the XO era and features a handful of excellent B-sides released on the UK singles for ‘Waltz #2’ and ‘Baby Britain:’ the instrumental ‘Our Thing,’ the rocker ‘How To Take A Fall,’ the brooding ‘The Enemy Is You’ and the full band version of ‘Some Song (Alternate Version).’ It also includes a demo of ‘Waltz #1’ and an early version of ‘Bottle Up and Explode!,’ as well as a remix of ‘Baby Britain’ and a radio edit of ‘Waltz #2.’ It’s rounded out with ‘Miss Misery,’ Smith’s Oscar-nominated song from Good Will Hunting that was included as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of XO. Aside from ‘Waltz #1 (Demo)’ and ‘Miss Misery,’ all songs are making their digital debuts on all streaming and download platforms.
The bonus tracks of Figure 8 include the titular, faithful cover of the ‘School House Rock’ classic, written by Bob Dorough, that gave the album its name but was only released as a b-side on the UK ‘Son Of Sam’ single along with the rollicking gem ‘A Living Will.’ Three songs from the rare French promo 3 Titres Inedits are included: the Beatles-y ‘I Can’t Answer You Anymore,’ ‘Pretty Mary K (Alternate Version)’ and ‘Happiness (Acoustic).’ An acoustic version of ‘Son Of Sam’ is also featured along with Smith’s gorgeous cover of The Beatles’ ‘Because,’ which was featured in the film American Beauty and on its soundtrack and included on the Japanese edition of Figure 8. That track along with ‘Son Of Sam’ (Acoustic) are the only ones that were previously available digitally.
XO signified a major evolution for Smith and a critical turning point in his career, away from the lo-fi indie folk confessionals laid bare on his previous three albums and toward a more stereophonic, full band sound. XO was released on 25 August 1998, just a few months after Smith was reluctantly thrust into the spotlight with a life-changing performance at the Academy Awards for his Academy Award-nominated song, the “Good Will Hunting” closer, ‘Miss Misery.’
With the backing and resources of his new label DreamWorks Records and the help of producer team Rob Schnapf and Tom Rothrock, Smith embraced his opportunity to create a lush, ambitious, and beautifully complex album unlike anything he had done before. XO finds Smith coloring his introspective acoustic songs, still filled with understated melodies and barbed one-liners, with shades of rich, Beatlesque production, string-laden baroque pop and spirited rock.
Universally hailed upon release, XO topped best of lists in 1998 and continues to resonate, as powerfully moving as ever, more than 20 years later. The album is consistently included on greatest albums list and was featured on Spin’s “Top 125 Albums of the Past 25 Years” and Pitchfork’s “Top 100 Albums of the 1990s.” Praising the album, Pitchfork wrote, “Elliott Smith used his DreamWorks debut, XO, as an opportunity to further focus the emotional power of his previous releases. Melancholy and grandiosity may seem mutually exclusive, but on XO, they’re combined to wonderful effect, each crystalline guitar line and majestic piano arpeggio adding momentum and depth to Smith’s gorgeous and impassioned vocals.”
Following the breakout success of XO, Smith again teamed up with producers Rob Schnapf and Tom Rothrock for his Technicolor follow up, Figure 8, released on 18 April 2000 on DreamWorks. The album was recorded throughout 1998-2000 at several studios including Sunset Sound and Capitol Studios in Los Angeles and Smith’s musical temple, Abbey Road Studios in London, where he used the piano that The Beatles used to record ‘Fool On The Hill.’ Unlike XO’s major shift from the albums that came before it, Figure 8 continued Smith’s penchant for ambitious arrangements but took them into even bigger, bolder and sometimes weirder territory.
Revisiting two of Elliott Smith’s most accomplished albums on the occasion of his 50th birthday, XO and Figure 8’s new digital deluxe editions allows for a deeper dive into his creative process with the addition of these rare tracks, serving as a reminder of Smith’s remarkable talent and the incredible body of work he created in a life that was cut far too short at the age of 34 in 2003.